Paramhansa Yogananda liked to say, "Environment is stronger than will power," and advised his students to be aware of how they spent their time. The company we keep, the books we read, the television and movies we watch, the news we consume - all of these work together to influence our behavior, thoughts, and moods. When we surround ourselves with people who are gossipy ("If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit next to me!"), we ourselves become more inclined to pick people apart and cast judgement freely. If we regularly engage with those who enjoy expressing gratitude, we observe the world around us with a hue of thankfulness. We are certainly influenced by what we take in around us.
This was recently illustrated to me "out in the wild" of everyday life, when I was volunteering at an event for my children's school. It was their sports day, where the school had all sorts of sporting games set up for the different classes to participate in throughout the day. I was helping with an event that involved a huge, light ball being volleyed between two classes, and the class who got the ball past the other class and over a line won a point. I worked with about a dozen classes on the game, and each of them had the same unaccounted for challenge: the wind. It was a cloudy, windy day, and the ball was so big and light that it was easily redirected by the wind. There was definitely an advantage to the team with their back to the wind. We volunteers realized this quickly and would have the teams switch sides every few goals.
What was interesting was watching how the various classes handled the extra obstacle of the wind. Most classes commented at some point about the wind and that it wasn't fair, and some of them would let the issue go after we said they would get an extra point for the disadvantage (although we weren't really keeping track of scoring anyway) or when we said they would get to switch sides soon. Other classes, though, got very upset about the disadvantage and held on to the "injustice" like a dog with a bone. One class in particular began complaining about the wind, and then they talked about a downward slope of the grass going against them, and then they even started saying that the referee was biased against their team because his son was on the other team! Their complaints must have started with one or two people primarily, but it was amazing how quickly they spread amongst their classmates. I would hear a complaint about the wind, and then immediately there would be 4 or 5 other voices echoing, "Yeah, the wind is pushing the ball, it's not fair!" Then someone would say something about this mysterious slope to the ground, and right away other voices would verify, "Yeah, it slopes downward and it's harder for us to move than the other team!" And then someone decided the ref was biased, and others chimed in their agreements about that. The complaints spread like wildfire, burning up their potential for a fun, casual game as they went.
I am sure you've had similar experiences, where you have a neutral or no opinion about something (or even a positive one), and someone shares their negative take on it and your view changes as well. I certainly have been prone to this. I saw a quote recently in this regard which I loved: Never judge someone on the opinion of others. Judging someone based on other's opinions can be easy to do and hard to resist, but in our attempts to transform and reach our highest potential it does us well to heed this advice. If the kids in the example of the sports game could have resisted being influenced by the loud nay-sayer, they would have enjoyed things a lot more. I could see the proof of this in the classes who just noticed the wind was carrying the ball but got on with things and didn't clutch on to their sense of indignation that natural events could influence the outcome of the game.
I hope it goes without saying that there are, of course, circumstances which require us to act and not sit idly by accepting what is going on around us. I am typing this on Memorial Day, which is a holiday in America where we reflect on those who have sacrificed their lives in service to their country. This makes me think of World War II, which is a perfect example of when it was important not to sit by and simply accept what was happening in an effort to keep inner harmony. But, putting aside those real injustices it definitely is worthwhile to stay aware of the environment we are subjecting ourselves to and making sure it is serving our highest purposes. When we are around our friends, do we bond over things that help us keep reaching higher, or are we bonding over what we dislike and picking people apart unfairly? Is what we watch on TV helping our hearts expand or do we feel angry or restless with our media diet? Are we spending our time reading books which challenge us to keep getting better, to think about things in a different way and encourage our inner growth, or are we going for strictly entertainment, letting that time pass idly by?
Paramhansa Yogananda said, "The minutes are more important than the years." It is important to remember that our lives are the culmination of moments. Strive to make good choices in each moment, and enjoy what you grow into as a result. Do your best, and be kind to yourself on your journey.
Many people who practice a yogic lifestyle are vegetarian. I myself have been a vegetarian much longer than I have been meditating and studying yogic teachings. While there are many ways to live a yogic lifestyle, there are several reasons dropping meat from your diet can be a powerful way of bringing yogic living more fully into your being.
From a physical perspective, I was just reading yesterday in this book I am enjoying SO much and highly recommend, The Energy Codes by Dr. Sue Morter, about how important our body chemistry is to our healing and wellbeing. We want to try to keep our body in an alkaline environment. After we digest what we eat, what is left is called "ash." Some foods generate alkaline ash and some acidic ash. Animal protein leaves an acidic ash, which works against the alkaline environment we are trying to sustain. If we go too far with our acid ash, the body will start pulling the alkaline reserves stored in the body which causes complications and makes other healing very difficult. Dr. Morter states that maintaining this pH state is of primary importance to the body, and thus other things (like eliminating pain, for instance) will not be addressed until the body gets in the right chemistry. The book goes into a lot of interesting and accessible detail about this process and even explains how to test your pH levels and adjust them based on the results.
I personally did not let go of meat due to my body chemistry, but rather for ethical reasons - another valid aspect for going vegetarian. (I get asked regularly how long I have been a vegetarian, and I don't remember the exact year. I know it was before I got married, and we just celebrated our 15 year anniversary so it's more than that.) As I've written about before, I had been curious about being vegetarian for years before I finally took the plunge. Eventually, I found myself reading a book by the Dalai Lama (maybe it was The Art of Happiness? I can't remember which one exactly) and it was a very simple explanation His Holiness offered on why Buddhists practice vegetarianism that finally and irrevocably tipped the scales for me: respect for all life. All of the swinging back and forth I had felt when I considered becoming a vegetarian - the convenience factor for myself and any future hosts, judgment, fear of "failure," consideration of protein intake - faded into the shadows as this one higher truth became illuminated within me.
Something I didn't take into account until many years later is yet another compelling reason to give up meat: the vibration of the food itself, and the impact it has on the vibration of the individual when it is added to the body. All matter is, in fact, energy, including all food and all bodies - human or animal. In meditation, we are raising our vibration through stilling our bodies and minds. Our vibration continues to change (raising or lowering) based on how we move through the world - the things we say, the actions we take, the very thoughts we think, the music we listen to, the books we read, the movies we watch, and the food we eat. If these things are expanding our consciousness and awareness, our vibration is raising. If we are contracting, tightening, or becoming narrower, our vibration is lowering. Ideally, at the end of our lives we exit this plane with a higher vibration than that which we arrived. Fruit is said to have a high vibration and is particularly elevating, or sattwic. In contrast, meat is said to have a rajasic, or activating quality.
Tangentially to this topic, Swami Kriyananda writes the following in The Art and Science of Raja Yoga:
"The food we eat is more than an assortment of chemicals. Essentially, it is vibration. As such, it affects our consciousness. Animals, because of their more developed nervous systems (compared to that of vegetables), feel intense anguish, anger, and fear when they are killed. These emotions fill their bodies with toxins. More than that, they implant in the animals' bodies the vibrations of their strong emotions. People who eat such flesh take into themselves something of these emotions... For a person on the path of yoga, it is important to give up foods that of their very nature obstruct any effort to achieve inner peace and harmony. For the yogi, a fruit and vegetarian diet is important above all else because of the calming effect it has on his mind and nervous system."
There are, of course, many other reasons a vegetarian diet compliments a yogic lifestyle than what has been listed here (the impact on the environment is another excellent one!). Just like meditation itself, people come at it from all different starting points and impetuses. Whatever the reasons, the impact on an individual's body, mind, and soul are noticeable, and it's certainly something worth considering!
I had an interesting experience last weekend which really emphasized to me the power of being in the "flow" in the least likely place I would expect a lesson on cosmic energy: playing a family game of corn hole. If you've never heard of it, corn hole is an outdoor recreational game people play in their backyards. As far as I can tell its popularity is pretty confined to the United States. I never came across it when living in the UK or Italy, and it is a staple at any outdoor gathering in the US.
The game consists of two long, raised, angular boards set several feet apart. The boards each have a hole cut out at the top. You toss four beanbags one at a time toward a board, and if your bag lands on the board you get one point and if it goes through the hole you get three points.
I don't have a lot of experience with corn hole. I've been around it a lot, and it's fun enough, but I am never the first to volunteer to play. If they need me to play I will, but I'm guessing I've maybe played it five times in my life. We went to my dad's last weekend and they had corn hole set up. After getting reacquainted with the rules, we split into teams and began playing. As we started, the bags I was tossing were all over the place. We were laughing as I completely missed the board so consistently that it was a big deal if I even managed to land a bag on the board. It seemed getting in the hole would be an unachievable goal for me.
Suddenly, I though about the things I've heard and read about the power of energy. I wasn't sure how it might apply to this situation, but I decided to start internally playing around with harnessing my energy at the spiritual eye and focusing on the hole each time I tossed a bag. Instantly, I stated connecting with the hole. It was truly remarkable. I went from being all over the place with my throws to having laser precision. Suddenly I was the secret weapon and we were joking I was like a pool shark (we just forgot to start playing for money - lol!). As long as I connected my energy to the hole, I was tossing the bags in the hole one after the other. It really was like I was under a spell - while applying my energy I couldn't miss.
We were playing where the winning team would keep playing and the other players would rotate in at the start of each new round to challenge the previous winners. Ultimately, I had to give up my spot because others weren't getting enough play time, and when I came back to the game I had let go of that energetic flow and fell back to how I started - hardly making any connection to the board much less the hole.
I love to try to break things down into really practical explanations when topics go esoteric, but in this case it is difficult for me to expound too much on how I was getting into this flow. Some things in life are just mysterious and don't lend themselves well to explanation. The best I can say is I was connecting with the energy in the forehead/between the eyebrows and focusing on the hole in the board for which I was aiming. This was done in an open, relaxed way - I was still interacting and laughing with everyone around me. At one point I even joked, "Ok, is anyone interested now in the power of being in an energetic flow?!"
It was really a fun illustration of the power of harnessing our energy. The game was completely recreational, obviously - nothing at stake, totally for fun. Imagine utilizing that power toward things that DO matter. I think it was a way for the universe to clearly make its point about what is possible when we utilize that flow of energy toward our highest purpose.
I posted recently on the blog about intuition, and I confessed that for a long time I felt it was something some people had that I did not. Like a beautiful singing voice, I've longed for my own throughout my life but came to accept that I wasn't made that way. However, through my exploration of the yogic teachings, and then through their application, I have found that it is possible to tune in to that inner guidance we call intuition.
Intuition comes in many forms, and sometimes it's a spontaneous feeling we have about something or someone - we may be drawn or repelled by someone before we ever speak to them and not understand why - while at other times we are seeking guidance and intentionally look within for the solution which is beyond our intellectual capabilities. The experience I'm sharing here is in the latter category. I had an important decision to make in which I would be pretty blind going in and which would have a lasting impact on the life of my family and me for many years. That decision, as the photo I've included might hint, was what dog to rescue.
We had to euthanize our beloved Lucy in January. She was 12 and had given us so much joy for so long, and it was hard to say goodbye to her. We needed some time to lick our wounds after losing her, and in the spring we started to feel we were ready for a new dog. We knew the relative size (medium) and age (between 1-3 years) we wanted, but we were really open as far as breed mix. We have always rescued because there are so many animals with tough beginnings who need a good home, but of course when you are going with a mutt you need to take an even greater leap of faith in your choice than when you get a standard breed. With a specific breed there are many traits which the vast majority of dogs in that breed share. Most Labradors are good with kids and excel at retrieving; most shelties are eager to please; many German shepherds have a strong protective instinct, and so on. When you get a purebred, you can be pretty sure the dog will fall within a certain boundary of general traits and then will have their little particular personality quirks from there. However, with a mutt you can't be sure even what breeds are mixed in, of those breeds which characteristics will be most dominant, and then on top of that you have the specific personality of the dog itself.
As we started thinking about adopting a dog, I started asking internally to be directed to the right one. In my meditations, I would try to send the thought out at the spiritual eye: please send the right dog for my family. Let me have the eyes to recognize it. I did this many times in my meditations before we started looking, with the thought that the more energy I put behind it the better my chances of receiving the guidance.
We went on vacation the first week of April. The evening before our flight I dreamt about a dog with a black and brown face. I don't remember much about the dream, but the only dog I had dreamt about in the past few months was Lucy (who was all black) so it was notable to me that I had seen a different dog. I mentioned to my family over breakfast about what I'd seen in my dream, and then we busily got on with our day and ultimately our vacation.
As vacation wound down and we prepared to come home, we started talking more actively about looking for a dog. We started looking online at dogs available for adoption, and at first any dog with a black and brown face got my attention. I felt drawn to that coloring because of my dream, so I was trying to pay attention. However, as we looked more and more at the photos and descriptions of the dogs, there was one my daughter and I really liked the look of. It was a blond male called Smokey who had a face like a deer. He looked so sweet. We knew the rescue organization he was with would be at a pet store in a few days, and I emailed them to see if he would be there. I never got a response, but we decided to make that our first stop in our search in the hopes he would be there. The closer the day got to the start of our dog searching, the more focused I got on Smokey and the black and brown dog disappeared from my mind.
The day of the adoption event at the pet store arrived, and when we got there there were people and dogs everywhere. It was really overwhelming - a small space with so many people, and there were five in my group alone (in addition to me, my husband, and 2 kids I had brought my cousin because I feel she has a good sense about animals) who had scattered to different dogs the minute we arrived. Instead of going to any dogs first, I went to the organizer of the event to ask if Smokey was there. She said the family who had been fostering him decided to keep him. I told my family the news and reminded them that we were just there to look and to not feel we had to pick one of the dogs who was there because there are lots of other places we can look. I felt we were back to square one and I didn't want us to feel rushed to decide on any of these dogs we weren't familiar with.
We all looked around somewhat separately. Frequently one of us would say to the others, "Come and look at this one! S/he's so sweet!" And then we'd get some information about the dog which would make it not quite right - either it was older than we had in mind (we weren't looking for a puppy but wanted it to be on the younger side), was known to not be good with other animals (we have a cat), they didn't want to separate it from its sister and were looking for someone to adopt two dogs together, and so on.
We started asking about one dog who looked to be the size we were looking for, and the answers started to line up with what we were looking for. She was a female (our preference, even though we were willing to think about an exception with Smokey), around one year old, good with kids. They got her out of her crate for us to take her for a walk, and she gave the kids a ton of kisses. They had both just finished soccer games so probably tasted very yummy to a dog - regardless of the "cause" of all the kisses, the person showing her to us hadn't seen her react like that to anyone before.
Ultimately, she felt like a good fit for us and we adopted her. A while after we got home we decided to take her for a walk. While we were out, I mentioned to the kids, "It's so funny, I dreamt about Lucy last night and now here we are with our new dog." I dreamt... Suddenly, with those words I remembered the dream about the dog with the black and brown face. I had forgotten all about it in the days leading up to the adoption as I zeroed in on Smokey, and even once I found out he wasn't available with all the chaos of the event I hadn't had time to reflect on it again. Now here I was, walking the dog I had seen in my dream.
Smokey was a blessing as he had pulled the veil back over my eyes. I think if I had remembered the dream and picked our new dog, Josey, based on what I'd seen in the dream I would have had a feeling in the back of my mind that I was self-fulfilling my "prophesy." I would feel I was forcing the dream to be correct, and it would have given me a bit of doubt that we really had found the right dog. But, because I had focused so much on this Smokey in the days leading up to the adoption it shook me from trying to find that dog with the black and brown face. When I remembered the dream after we had already brought Josey home, it really gave me a great sense that we were all exactly where we were supposed to be.
Waking up with my dog on one side and my cat on the other. And my husband who has been away all week.
Running in the sun, which has been absent for weeks, with the new dog for the first time.
The feeling in my lungs after the run, from the exercise and fresh air.
A warm shower.
The smell of my conditioner.
The anticipation of having a cappuccino soon.
Having so many things for which to be grateful by 8:45 am.
I am an Ananda® certified meditation teacher. I am passionate about meditation and embrace a yogic lifestyle for greater wellness physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
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